Mr. Kelley goes to Washington

Finally, the truth can be revealed! My Constitutional Law professor, William Kelley, is taking a two-year leave of absence from Notre Dame Law School and going to the White House to become President Bush’s #2 lawyer!


White House Deputy Counsel William K. Kelley

This isn’t exactly breaking news, as I’ll explain below. But as of today, it’s no longer a secret, thanks to the Washington Post:

Another former aide to former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr goes to the White House staff. The new deputy general counsel is William K. Kelley, a Notre Dame law professor, clerk when Starr was on the appeals court and then clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia. Kelley wrote the Monica S. Lewinsky report along with, among others, current White House staff secretary Brett M. Kavanaugh, but reportedly not the nasty parts.

Professor Kelley has actually already started his new job — we had our final ConLaw class a week ago today — although he does still have one lingering responsibility at NDLS: grading our exams, which are on March 21. (Oh, joy.)

His new boss is White House Counsel Harriet Miers (Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’s replacement in that job). His office is on the second floor in the west wing of the White House. He’ll be involved in such things as helping set government policy with regard to legal issues and — here’s the fun part — vetting possible federal judicial nominees, including potential Supreme Court justices.

I, along with everyone else in Professor Kelley’s ConLaw class, have known about this since February 11, when he told us about it in class, but I agreed not to publish it until the White House had officially announced it. I’m not sure if that’s happened yet, but since it’s in the Post, I figure the cat is clearly out of the bag.

Actually, the cat has been at least somewhat out of the bag since February 14, when a blogger calling herself “Article III Junkie” initially “reported” that Kelley was going to be nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, then corrrected herself a few hours later:

…[Sources] have informed Article III Groupie that her prior intelligence concerning Professor William Kelley is incorrect. According to the first source, Professor Kelley is potentially headed for a new position, but not for a seat on the D.C. Circuit. Instead, Kelley may be taking “a high-level, law-related position in the Bush Administration.” A second source offers more specific information: “Kelley is going to the White House as a Deputy Counsel. (Perhaps this is a way station for a D.C. Circuit post.)”

Six days later, on Feb. 20, an “anonymous NDLS student” commented on Article III Junkie’s post: “I can confirm Kelley has been appointed deputy White House counsel.”

Technically, however, neither Article III Junkie nor my anonymous classmate scooped BrendanLoy.com. I actually had the news before anyone else — for about five minutes, before I yanked it offline. :) Let me explain.

First, a bit of back story. On February 4, Professor Kelley told our ConLaw section that he would be leaving Notre Dame halfway through the semester, and that we would be starting our class sessions earlier to make up [some of] the difference. The reason, Kelley said at the time, was “professional reasons that I cannot yet disclose” (or something like that).

For a week, we wondered and we speculated. What was going on? Some talked of judicial appointments. Wild-eyed scenarios flew through the law-school building: “Is Kelley replacing Rehnquist on the Supreme Court??” Well, he had helped Bush with the 2000 election litigation, after all! More rational speculation focused on nearby district and circuit courts, while others said he was heading to the executive branch.

Finally, on Feb. 10, we were promised that the suspense was almost over. Professor Kelley said he would reveal his secret the next day in class.

He didn’t disappoint. A few minutes after 3:00 PM on Feb. 11, he made his announcement to the class. Naturally, given the newsworthy nature of the event, I was in full live-blogging mode, recording with both my cell phone and my digital camera, and getting ready to type the news immediately in a text post as well. As it turned out, the cell phone audio-post was nigh unintelligible, but you can just barely make out what he’s saying in the audio clip (WAV, 328 KB) from the digital camera:

I feel a little — quite sheepish, because you’re all wondering what’s going on in my life, obviously, and it’s not that big a thing, but I can now say that I’m going to go and serve as deputy counsel to the president. [applause]

Immediately, I posted the news to my blog:

UPDATE: He’ll be the Deputy Counsel to the President.

Taking a two-year leave of absence from Notre Dame.

At the same time as I was publishing that to the blog, a brief question-and-answer session was getting underway in the classroom. (It started, as you can hear in the audio clip above, with a student asking, in classic 1L fashion, “Are you hiring for the summer?” Heh.) A few minutes later, I raised my hand to participate in the question-and-answer session, but before I could finish asking my first question, Kelley interjected, “I know who you are. My colleagues tell me who you are. Enough of this writing about Kelley stuff.” (Audio clip, WAV, 188 KB.)

I took that as a light-hearted comment, and didn’t take any action with regard to what was on the blog. A few minutes later, though, Professor Kelley asked the class in a serious tone to please keep this information at least somewhat under wraps until it was officially announced by the White House. It’s not a “secret,” he said — we can certainly talk about it within the law school — but “just keep it off the damn Internet.”

At this point, a number of my classmates started snickering. “Unless it’s too late…” Kelley added, to which several classmates, whose laptops were pointed to my website at that very moment, simultaneously said something along the lines of, “Yup, too late.” The class erupted in laughter.

That’s when I spoke up, and volunteered to take the posts offline. Professor Kelley (who didn’t seem angry or upset about any of this, lest the quotes mislead you) said he would appreciate that, so I immediately changed the status of both of the offending posts from “Publish” to “Draft,” then explained my self-censorship in a new post. Professor Kelley said I was welcome to post his news as soon as the White House had officially announced it.

When I agreed to respect the good professor’s wishes, I thought we were talking a matter of days, not weeks, certainly not nearly a month. But I’m a man of my word (and, um, I don’t want to fail ConLaw :), so I kept the posts offline even after I discovered Article III Junkie’s blog; after all, I suspect my audience of 1,000+ visitors per day is a bit larger than hers (though I don’t know for sure, since her stats aren’t public). But now that the news is in the Washington Post, I feel no qualms about publishing it here. Hence, I’ve changed the status on those original posts back to “Publish,” which is why you can see them if you follow the links above.

Anyway, congratulations, Professor Kelley, and best of luck at the White House!

P.S. Professor Kelley’s possible role in helping pick SCOTUS nominees has led to some great opportunities for wild, unsubstantiated speculation among my classmates. For example, when he said the other day in class, “I predict there will be a female chief justice [someday],” Chris leaned over and said, “I think that’s a scoop for BrendanLoy.com. Sandra Day O’Connor will be the next chief justice.” Heh. (For the record, I have no actual reason to believe that’s true. I think he was just talking in general terms.)

5 Responses to “Mr. Kelley goes to Washington”

  1. Andrew says:

    Crazy stuff. I hope all you guys are appreciating your brush with power and are seizing the chance to build on your relationship with Kelley as a springboard for future opportunities.

  2. micki says:

    I am curious. Other than pride in a professor getting a job he wanted what does this mean for his students?

    Is it a feather in the university’s cap to have their law professor go to the white house?

    Is it something the students can use to their advantage in their resumes?

    I’m not trying to be patronizing. If I chose college and had a professor get a prestigious job, I’d be proud too. I’m wondering in general what kind of impact it will have for the university and the students.

  3. Brendan Loy says:

    Short term, the biggest impact is that our class schedule became a nightmare, we’re learning less Constitutional Law than we would have otherwise, and we have to take a final exam at 8:00 AM on the Monday after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

    Long term, I guess it depends. Students who have “networked” and gotten to know Professor Kelley well, have a valuable connection they might be able to use to their advantage down the road. For the rest of us, I guess it’s just an “I knew him when” sort of thing, especially if this is indeed a ticket to bigger and better things (e.g., judgeships), as some have speculated.

    Personally, I don’t expect to get much personal advantage out of it, but I wish Professor Kelley well and, for all my griping above, I don’t actually resent him for what has happened. I think the timing issues are unfortunate, but pretty much beyond everyone’s control. And I certainly don’t begrudge him the fact that he would take such a great job. If there is any blame to be had, it falls on the doorstep of the law school administration for not handling things better/differently, not with Professor Kelley himself.

    Just my two cents.

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